Platinum Games is well known for its high-octane absurd action games. The likes of the sublimely ridiculous Vanquish, the cheekily wonderful Bayonetta and nanomachine memefest Metal Gear Rising all conjure up images of lightning-paced, over-the-top battles in manically busy arenas that many, myself included, adore. The Legend of Korra, the latest to title from the Japanese studio, holds the same basic design template as its stablemates, but somewhere along the line somebody forgot to add some of the pace, busy arenas and absurd action to leave us with a pretty, yet straightforward and occasionally frustrating licensed beat-em-up.
Based on the popular follow up to the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra is, on paper at least, the perfect series to affix a third-person beat-em-up action game to. The titular Korra, a bullish teenage girl, is the one human born every generation that can bend the four elements to her will, fated to bring balance to the world with her unique abilities. She starts with the full arsenal of her powers, allowing you to sample each elemental power in turn before, quite predictably, they are taken away and thus you are then off to seek them out one by one whilst brawling with foe after foe (after foe), eventually leading to the cause of Korra’s power issues.
The game pulls off the feel of the series’ animation, giving TLoK a lovely cel-shaded style that plays smoothly on PS4, bringing up memories of Ni No Kuni in terms of aesthetic, but TLoK only looks marginally better than that, despite the jump in hardware capabilities. The musical score is an aural pleasure lifted straight from the show, while the voice acting is mostly spot-on with the odd overly cheese-injected exception, which still fits somehow.
As far as connection to the actual plotline of the show goes, the game offers a rather weak link between seasons that doesn’t deliver thestorytelling depth of its source. At best it is a quaint bridging tale, at worst it feels a bit empty and unfulfilling. The ‘serious’ part of the finale is a lame duck that is thankfully usurped by a far jauntier epilogue. Fans of the show will no doubt love the visual sides’ attention to the details of the universe while lamenting a real missed opportunity to bring something relevant and on par in terms of narrative.It probably doesn’t help that said story is a bit on the short side at eight reasonably sized missions. Granted, this is a small, digital-only title, but would it really have hurt to bung a few extra scenes of dialogue considering the series itself thrives on story as much as combat? The focus is clearly on smashing up bad guys, for better or worse, and that can be done in a matter of hours.
Nevertheless, you will be smashing up a lot of bad guys.The combat is a relatively pared-down version of Platinum’s usual system of medal-based rewards for kicking just the right level of ass. You have your basic light and heavy attack for all four elemental powers with easily achievable combos, then there is the dodge and block/counter those familiar with Metal Gear Rising will know well, even if it’s nowhere near as sophisticated as that. It still manages to be quite gratifying however as nothing beats the satisfaction of pummelling groups of enemy fodder with consummate ease and style. The countering feels satisfying, but is not always clear about when it is useful.
Much of your early success in The Legend of Korra boils down to failing an unfathomable section enough times to twig what you were supposed to do; and that’s delightfully old-school and undeniably irritating in equal measure. The further you progress, the less mistakes you will make, as you have a full elemental armory three quarters into the campaign, as well as a knowledge of enemy patterns. The penultimate mission onward, I barely used any healing items and didn’t die once even though the game was throwing everything at me by this point.
Generally speaking, you will fight slightly altered versions of the same footsoldiers an awful lot, with the odd specialist enemy, tank-like mechs and spirit variants appearing here and there. The simplified combat system starts to make many of the later battles against the fodder a chore, but happily, the game begins mixing things up a bit soon after. Oddly, there is only one proper boss fight and it’s arguably easier than the majority of the regular battles.
The seemingly endless button mashing is alleviated at points by ‘runner’ sections, as Korra rides upon Naga, a large polar bear/dog hybrid who appears to either have been half-shaved or skipped leg day at the gym a few too many times. Astride Naga, you are avoiding bottomless pits and obstacles at first until these escalate into a hybrid of the two gameplay types later on where you fight as you dodge and run. Again, these sections are rather simple, but also effective in delivering a degree of enjoyment when they aren’t hitting you with ridiculously tight turns.
The other break from thumb cramps comes in the form of the Pro-Bending League. This cute fusion of bending, Sumo and dodgeball is introduced early in the campaign, repeated twice more later on and it’s quite enjoyable to play. Better still, once you finish the story, you are able to play a whole other mode dedicated to it. It isn’t a particularly deep mode to be honest, just a simple tournament that beefs up an otherwise skinny game.
The Legend of Korra is at just about the right price for what it offers, a good-looking, action-laden brawler with little depth and a decent realisation of the universe it takes place in. It’s just a shame there isn’t more to it than that.